He shared the stage and partied with Marilyn, exchanged correspondences and artwork with Jackie O., and introduced The Twist to India. The son of a New York City truck driver and Pinos Altos gold miner’s daughter, dancer and artist Richard Maitland was born in Bisbee, Ariz., 86 years ago. He spent his formative years—and much of his life, for that matter—on the road. In the year of the Great Depression, his family moved to San Francisco. That’s where he got his feet wet as a dancer—performing in his first production at the age of 8.Before settling in New Mexico in the mid-’60s, he worked in movies and Broadway productions with the likes of Ethel Merman and Richard Burton. He taught and performed ballet in India for six years with support from Indira Gandhi. That’s also where he started showcasing his artwork, as well as where he met Jacqueline Kennedy, who fell in love with his paintings and became a collector.Those colorful memories inform and consume Maitland’s artwork and his world. He’s a self-proclaimed "nostalgist," something that is evident in Collected Memories , a show of more than 40 collage, painting and mixed-media pieces on display at Gallerie Imaginarium. "I’ve been living in the past since I was a kid," he tells the Alibi . This is also clear at Maitland’s Rio Rancho home, which feels more like an autobiographical museum of a life in art and showbiz. There doesn’t seem to be a square foot of the place that isn’t decorated by photos of old Broadway stars he collaborated with or works of art he created or collected throughout his busy, wanderlust career. He’s a performer and storyteller of the highest degree, and it’s an exercise in futility to draw a line between the man and his nostalgic surroundings; they define him, and he embodies them.It’s also hard to put a stylistic label on Maitland’s work. A self-taught artist, his pieces run the gamut from surrealism to folk art, always inhabited by complex and personal narratives. He uses doll parts, bones, feathers, old photos of himself—just about anything he can get his hands on to convey his messages. His ideas are dark, grotesque, whimsical, beautiful and bittersweet. Along with a quality of vivacious celebration for a life fully lived, there is often an infinite sadness in his work.The latter can be seen in "Minister’s Son," a collage framed inside a rusty red wagon that shows a faded sepia tone photo of a young man with a despondent look on his face. Pasted on his shirt are daguerreotypes of stern-looking adults. At the bottom of the piece is a dead bird. It’s easy enough to read into it as an allegory for death—an altar of sorts—but when Maitland unravels the narrative, the piece becomes even more pointed and poignant.He once knew a young Mormon man who committed suicide after his father found out he was homosexual. The red wagon was a gift given to the boy from his father. It’s a bit like a more tragic iteration of Citizen Kane , marred by brutal intolerance. Maitland is incensed when he looks at the parental figures in the collage. "They are so mean looking—these strict, Victorian assholes."That undercurrent of sociopolitical commentary persists in much of Maitland’s work. In his hallway hangs a witch doll that he’s outfitted with a Sarah Palin hairdo and glasses. "I make comments on politics and religion," says Maitland. "I’m very much a secular humanist. I hate fanaticism, and I hate bigotry and narrow-mindedness. I love nature and animals. And I think love is what rules the world."It’s not immediately evident that this is the intention behind "A Spot in Heaven," another work on display at Gallerie Imaginarium. Mixing oil and collage on canvas, the piece calls to mind a hallucinatory desert town, and its backdrop of a wide ocean—blocked from the land by doors of various, vivid hues—brings forth a multidimensional disconnect that grounds the piece in surrealism. The scene is populated with creatures both angelic and menacing. A leopard in a blue and black dress with human arms and seal flippers leads a prancing walrus across the flat, open courtyard. Mischievous green- and red-eyed foxes stare out from a side of the building. An eyeless pig with horrific tusks and a jaw of exposed bones brings to mind some nightmare vision from a Guillermo del Toro film.A large, pink mouse swims in the distant ocean. Proportion and scale are as unreal as in a dream. The boarded-up building in the courtyard looks like a ghost town saloon. In line with his humanist philosophy and twisted imagery, Maitland sees this assemblage of oddballs as what the hereafter should represent. "It’s a spot in heaven that tolerates everything," he says.Maitland doesn’t mince words when it comes to his own mortality. "We all die, which I think is dreadful, especially when you still think young." Regardless, he has a youthful exuberance and flair to his character that is irresistibly magnetic, transcendent of years.Hearing Maitland speak only adds depth and color to his beautiful collection. That’s why you should stop by his closing reception on Friday, Nov. 4. He’ll be on hand. And I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to share a memory or two.
Collected Memories Gallerie Imaginarium301 Central NW (entrance on Third Street just north of Central)Runs through Nov. 5Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.Closing Reception Friday, Nov. 4, from 5 to 7 p.m.286-9500, gallerieimaginarium.comrichmaitland.com